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Shanghai Noir

The Dancing Girl and the Turtle: publication date 01.04.2017

Tjen Folket is Norwegian for serve the people. It's also the name of a Norwegian political party that advocates armed revolution as the only manner in which socialism can take root. Mao Zedong is one of the five great men honored by this party. I take it, then, that this work of an unknown graffiti street artist in Bergen was not meant to be sardonic.

In the Chairman's day, there were lots of political posters. They weren't always of his shining face, though there were plenty of those, too. More ubiquitous were the posters fostering revolutionary zeal. If you look carefully these days, you'll see that political posters are making a come-back in China.This is the past rewritten to fit the present.

Last Sunday, I took a master class in novel-writing from the Indian author Manu Joseph. He's a former journalist with a lot of words under his belt and a knack with one-liners. My favorite one of the evening was this:

Writing is a confidence game.

As a journalist, Joseph is particularly tied to the present and the problems that overwhelm his native India. His latest novel, Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous, starts on the day when Hindu nationalists win a spectacular election victory. Joseph assures us that any resemblance to Narendra Modi is entirely coincidental.

Joseph is the kind of novelist who needs to set new challenges for himself. He told me that his new novel will be set 200-300 years ago. That way, he said, he doesn't have to worry so much about fact-checking.

I like his attitude. Historical fiction shouldn't be about facts. And a writer shouldn't get too bumfuzzled by all there is to know, say, about WWI infantrymen or lady explorers in Iceland. A novel is about truth.

Though, to get there from here may require a lot of rewriting. That, in any event, is my sad experience. You can all read about it in this week's blog post: Rewriting History.

Meanwhile, the number of visitors to my website has spiked, thanks to Cityscapes, my review of the Concrete edition of The Shanghai Literary Review. The kind folks at Shanghai Lit have been sharing my review on Instagram, Twitter and WeChat. I'm practically a medai star (well, sort of).

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